How Blue Jays could approach third base in 2024

November 27th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

TORONTO -- Looking at a mound of puzzle pieces sprawled out on the table, the Blue Jays still have their entire offseason in front of them.

A slow start to Hot Stove season promises that, when the tap turns on, news will gush out like a fire hose. The Blue Jays have some straightforward needs and grander matters of organizational philosophy to settle before Spring Training opens in February, but regardless of which path this takes, third base needs to come first.

The hot corner is Toronto’s biggest need this offseason, vacated by after two seasons. Typically, third base is an area of opportunity, particularly for a club looking to add some offense after a season spent veering too far in the opposite direction, but this free-agent market is thin.

With little lining up naturally for the Blue Jays, they may need to get creative and hit the trade market, which should be more unpredictable than usual with some clubs looking to move salary. Looking ahead to the Winter Meetings, which begin next week in Nashville, Tenn., here are the factors Toronto is facing at third.

Internal options ... or overlap?

The Blue Jays have a wealth of internal infield options: Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal, Davis Schneider, Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Leo Jimenez, Ernie Clement and Damiano Palmegiani. This group has quickly become a strength of the organization, but none are kicking down the door at third base. 

Biggio has value as a utility player, while Espinal will compete for a similar role to 2023. Schneider looks sharper at second base, and Martinez has also started to play there more, including in the Dominican Winter League. Barger has seen more time in right field lately than third. Jimenez is a shortstop and hasn’t touched Triple-A yet. Clement can handle the position, but can he sustain his offensive numbers from ‘23? Can Palmegiani carry over his Arizona Fall League success and emerge as a dark horse in camp? 

There’s potential in each, but little certainty. 

The important takeaway here? Each of these players has value elsewhere on the diamond, too. Once Toronto addresses third base, each of these puzzle places will fall into place more naturally. The Blue Jays are also positioning themselves to attack the trade market aggressively, making this group of names a likely pool to deal from.

Looking outside: Who's available?

Free agency offers no long-term solution, which is just fine. This current “window” of two years while the Blue Jays still have Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. needs to be maximized, so a short-term option can work well while Toronto determines who fits best as the future of the position. 

Jeimer Candelario is one of the top options on the open market after turning his career around in 2023, posting an .807 OPS with 22 home runs. Candelario will earn a mid-tier, multiyear contract, and the Blue Jays will be inquiring. Beyond Candelario, it grows much thinner. 

Gio Urshela, who spent a season with Toronto in 2018 before breaking out with the Yankees a year later, represents the “solid veteran” option. Urshela is 32 and hit .299 with a .703 OPS with the Angels last season and could land a two-year deal, which also fits the club’s window. Veteran names like Eduardo Escobar, Evan Longoria, Justin Turner and Josh Donaldson round out the market if the Blue Jays choose to go the complementary route.

Open to a reunion?

What about Matt Chapman? 

The four-time Gold Glove Award winner declined the Blue Jays’ qualifying offer, which was expected, but even as the top third baseman available, his market is difficult to project. Yes, Chapman is an elite defender and spent the month of April looking like he was headed for an all-time contract year, but his bat fell quiet for the final five months.

The Blue Jays know Chapman better than anyone at this point, giving them the most insight on the “why” of it all. Dialogue with Chapman has continued and Toronto remains genuinely open to a reunion, but like any other deal, it has to come at a number that works for both sides. If Chapman’s market doesn’t reach the heights some expect, the Blue Jays could be positioning themselves to make a push to bring Chapman back.

The likeliest outcome here, though, remains an option in the middle. Whether it be through free agency or -- even likelier -- through trade, there’s a comfortable path to the Blue Jays landing a veteran option for one or two seasons, then leaving the door cracked open to a young player like Schneider, Barger or Palmegiani to earn more time at the hot corner.